The Rifleman

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1958-63



DAD: Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Rifleman / Homesteader

KIDS: Mark (Johnny Crawford)(12)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead for quite some time – unknown.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Miss Milly Scott (Joan Taylor)

If you’re over 60, this is probably going to be one of the first five TV shows you will name if someone asks you about TV Single Dads.

Take The Andy Griffith Show, remove the comedic parts, roll it back about 100 years, and you’ve pretty much got the environment of The Rifleman. This show develops another standard motif of the TV Single Dad shows: the “mom” character who can’t really quite marry the TV Dad. This character-love interest-tension device pops up even in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation (think about Lt. Worf and Troi!)

Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1955-57



DAD: Captain Michael Gallant (Buster Crabbe) / Single Guy

DAD’S JOB: Legionnaire

KIDS: Cuffy Sanders (Cullen Crabbe)(11)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – – so’s Dad – he’s an orphan.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Sergeant Du Val (Gilles Queant)

Somewhat like Rin-Tin-Tin, only subtract the dog and add the desert.

I’m pretty sure this is a first: Buster Crabbe’s foster child was played by his real-life son Cullen.

This show was shot in North Africa, but owing to the fall of the French colonies during the same time period, the series moved to Italy in the final season.

A tip of the Lorne Greene Memorial 10-Gallon Hat to Ted Dec, who pointed out this little-reviewed series. Thanks, Ted!

Bachelor Father

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1957-62

DAD: Bentley Gregg (John Forsythe) / Single (!)

DAD’S JOB: Lawyer

KIDS: Kelly (Noreen Corcoran)(14)

WHERE’S MOM?: Mom and Dad both dead. Bentley was Kelly’s parents’ attorney and executor – wound up with wardship!

STAND-IN “MOM”: Peter Tong (Sammee Tong)

Should have been called “Suddenly Dad;” this show was a retake on the My Little Margie scenario, except Uncle Bentley was a less competent father than Margie’s dad. Sammee Tong entered into legend the character of the wisecracking, foreign-born housekeeper, an icon that would recur in shows such as Bonanza, Family Affair, et al.

Update: Alert Viewer Karen Collins chimes in with notes on a nexus-point for John Forsythe – “Interesting to note: Linda Evans, in her first role (I believe), played Kelly’s best friend on Bachelor Father, and later played John Forsythe’s wife on Dynasty.” Fascinating, as Linda Evans also co-starred on a famous TV Single Mom show, too – The Big Valley. Thanks for the info, Karen!

Circus Boy

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1956(NBC)-57(ABC)




DAD: Big Tim Champion (Robert Lowery) / Single (!)
DAD’S JOB: Circus Owner

KIDS: Corky (Mickey Braddock {Mickey Dolenz})(10)

WHERE’S MOM?: Mom and Dad both dead – killed in a high-wire act.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Unknown

Consider the role of disastrous high-wire acts in the history of TV Single Dads. In this show, Corky the Circus Boy loses his acrobatic parents in a trapeze mishap, and winds up sharing adventures with Big Tim Champion.  A decade after this show premiered, Youthful Ward Dick Grayson would lose his acrobatic parents in a similar manner, and wind up with millionaire Bruce Wayne as a guardian on Batman.

A mandatory “Did You Know” for this show is that young Corky was played by the young Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees fame.

The Great Gildersleeve

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1955

Syndicated

DAD: Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (Willard Waterman) / Single

DAD’S JOB: Water Commissioner of Summerfield

KID: Marjorie Forrester(Stephanie Griffith), Leroy Forrester(Ronald Keith) / Niece & Nephew

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead. So’s Dad.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Birdie Lee Coggins (Lillian Randolph) / Housekeeper

Technically, this show started before WWII — but it was a *radio* show when it began in 1941. Gildersleeve was a spin-off character of the Fibber McGee & Molly radio show, and was originally portrayed by Harold Peary. The premise of the spin-off was that Gildersleeve’s niece and nephew were orphaned, and needed their Uncle Throckmorton to move to Summerfield.

In the early 50’s, Peary was replaced by Waterman in the title role. The series moved to television mid-decade, but suffered from being mostly radio scripts with insufficient on-screen action. Waterman later re-created the role for solo appearances on The Lucy Show.

Big tip of the Porter Ricks Memorial Scuba Mask to Alert Viewer Gwnachman for the heads-up on this series. Thanks!

Brave Eagle

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired 1955-56

DAD: Brave Eagle (Keith Larsen) / Single
DAD’S JOB: Chief of the Cheyenne

KID: Keena (Keena Nomkeena) / Foster son

WHERE’S MOM?: Don’t know.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Morning Star (?) (Kim Winona) Brave Eagle’s girlfriend

A “now, with-it” western, told from the point of view of the Native Americans. Brave Eagle had to lead his tribe in simple survival and run-ins with the white man and other Indians. Kinda like Captain Kirk with teepees instead of starships.

Here’s how everything in television is related – via marriage. Keith Larsen was married to Vera Miles, who later appeared as Beth in the TV Single Dad show How the West Was Won.

Small world, ain’t it?

Adventures of Champion

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired 1955-56

DAD: Uncle Sandy North (Jim Bannon) / Single (?)

DAD’S JOB: Rancher

KIDS: Ricky (Barry Curtis) (12)

WHERE’S MOM?: Don’t know. Where’s Dad, too?

STAND-IN “MOM”: Champion (?)

Hey who’s ripping whom off here? This show, produced by Gene Autry as a “vehicle” for his Wonder Horse, Champion, sounds pretty much like the plot of Fury (above). Get this: out west, Ricky North lives on his uncle’s ranch, and is the only person able to ride this black stallion named Champion. They have a bunch of adventures defeating bad guys and getting into all kinds of dangerous situations. Sound familiar? I wonder who came up with the idea first.

Tidbit: this show was the first ‘spin-off’ in the history of television (from The Gene Autry Show of 1950-56). Just consider: Laverne & Shirley owes its pedigree to Gene’s horse.

Fury

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired 1955-60

Syndicated

DAD: Jim Newton (Peter Graves) / Single

DAD’S JOB: Rancher

KIDS: Joey (Bobby Diamond)(11)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead. So’s Dad.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Helen Watkins (Ann Robinson), Joey’s schoolteacher; or possibly Pete (William Fawcett), the “Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer” for the Ranch.
Out there in the west, somewhere probably near Sky King’s ranch in the 1950’s, Jim Newton adopts a city kid/orphan named Joey. Joey tames Jim’s “unbreakable” black stallion. Joey names the horse Fury. Fury and Joey wind up having the same kinds of adventures that Timmy and Lassie would have on their show.

Barry Williams, who would later portray the unforgettable Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch, once described this show as “the single most important program” to get him interested in acting. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or…

A tip of the Sebastian Cabot Memorial Bowler to Robert Carson (narcars@webtv.com) for the info on Jim’s last name and the Stand-in Mom details. Thanks, Robert!

…and a clang on the Hop Sing Memorial Triangle for Norman Bensen (normand@webtv.net) for the information about “Pete.” Thanks, Norman!

…plus a wave of the Mrs. Livington Memorial Feather Duster for “Momcat316@aol.com” on the tip about William Fawcett playing “Pete.” Thanks, “Momcat”!

Update: There’s more upset Alert Viewers out there. Here’s a recent note from the Broken Wheel Ranch – “I emailed you once before about your incorrect information about Fury. Nan Leslie played Packy’s mother, she was not Jim’s sister, or even his dead wife. If you are looking for a female for a stand in mother, then you would want it to be Ann Robinson, who was Joey’s scool teacher Helen Watkins. She was always at the ranch, and was there for Joey every damn time he got hurt, which was every few episodes.

If you would like to see more info on it, please visit our site at: http://brokenwheelranch.com

I stand corrected.

Sky King

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1953-54


DAD: Skyler “Sky” King (Kirby Grant) / Single Guy (?)- Uncle

DAD’S JOB: Pilot-Rancher

KIDS: Penny (Gloria Winters)(12) / Clipper (Ron Hagerthy)(10)

WHERE’S MOM?: Unknown. (Please e-mail me if you know the answer)

STAND-IN “MOM”: Unknown

“Out of the blue of the western sky comes Sky King.”

I never saw this show, but here’s what I know about the series: Kirby Grant played a rancher named Sky King, who had a twin engine Cessna (named “Songbird”) to catch rustlers et al. on his big “Flying Crown” ranch in Grover, Arizona. Sky had a niece named Penny and a nephew named Clipper. Penny and Clipper were constantly getting into trouble with the bad guys, and Uncle Sky typically had to rescue the kids from all sorts of perils.

The echoes of Sky King ring through the decades, as shows such as Space Ghost, Flipper, and Jonny Quest toyed with the “two kids in peril” motif. Strange.
Update: Alert viewer Ray Crenshaw (tbivins@greenwood.net) wrote in some more information about Sky’s aircraft: “Sky King had two different airplanes, though both were Cessna’s. The first plane was a ‘Bamboo Bomber’, it had two big radial engines and looked roughly similar to the plane Amelia Earhart flew and was subsequently lost in. Bamboo Bombers are exceedingly rare I’m told, probably even in the 1950’s. Cessna released the new twin-engine ‘310’ in around 1956… I wonder if they donated the new 310 for advertisement? This was, after all, just after WWII… it was commonly thought that almost *everyone* would fly airplanes in the (near) future. For a while it looked like it may happen… then the boom slowed down.”

A toot of the Fred MacMurray Memorial Saxophone to Ray Crenshaw for the aircraft info. Thanks, Ray!

An additional clang of the Hop Sing Memorial Dinner Triangle to Jim Hecht for the clarificaation of Skyler’s full name. Thanks, Jim!

I get more mail about Sky King than any other show in this entire website. What’s really amazing is how many little boys were in love with Penny! 🙂

Another update: Alert Viewer Martin McGowan checks in with more details about the ranch and the planes:

Your previous correspondent is correct, there were two “Songbirds”. The first, with the rotary engines, said to be similar to Emilia Eahrhart’s plane, was a Cessna 310-B. It would take a Cessna Freak to tell you what the second one was—-also a Cessna 310—-but the letter designation is the hard part. The C-310 was the base designation of the Cessna twin engine private plane. The letters designated the evolutionary incarnation, so to speak. Sky King’s ranch was called the “Flying Crown”. Get it? He drove around in Chrysler autos/station wagons with the FC logo/brand on the door.

Wonderful John Acton

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1953

DAD: John Acton (Harry Holcombe) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Court clerk and owner of the general store

KIDS: Julia (Virginia Dwyer)(22),  Kevin (Ronnie Walken)(12)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Unknown – possibly Aunt Bessie (Jane Rose)
Okay, you boomers – if you didn’t see this show, picture Green Acres with Sam Drucker’s family  as the focus. Easily forgettable, it was on from July to October of 1953 and then – – woosh – – -gone.

Update: Received a note from the son of the producer and director of Wonderful John Acton: “It was his first television show. Prior to that, he was a producer and director in radio, his most famous show being “Mr. District Attorney” which was very popular and ran from 1939 to 1952.

“Wonderful John Acton” was based on a real person, my father’s maternal grandfather who was a politician in Kentucky at the turn of the 20th century. I met one of the cast, Ian Martin, some years later when I was 12 or so. I have a claim to fame in that Christopher Walken’s character, Kevin Acton, was named after me. It was probably mom’s idea.

Unlike his radio career, my DAD’S foray into television met with little success. After “Wonderful John Acton”, he produced a show, “Mr. Citizen” which had a run of about a dozen episodes in 1955.”

Note: the charming Jacqui Chen of www.salmonlust.com points out that “Ronnie Walken” is, indeed, the original name of the ubiquitous Christopher Walken. Wonders never cease. Thanks, Jacqui!